Add a 40 Sq. Ft. Bathroom Shop
My workshop is 40 square feet. No, I didn’t forget a zero; I could only dream of a 400 square foot shop. Just 40, and that includes the bathtub … yes, my workshop is also my bathroom.
How did I end up woodworking in my bathroom? For starters, I live in a downtown Vancouver apartment, so space is at a premium. It’s just my wife and I, so our living space is adequate. But workshop space? Not so much. So what does one do when they want to do some woodworking in an apartment? Get creative.
In order to have any hope of containing the inevitable dust and noise, a closed room was needed. This only left one choice in our apartment – a small bathroom off of the loft bedroom. And small it is! A couple inches less than 5 x 8’ puts it just under 40 square feet wall to wall. To put it in perspective, that’s only about 2 square feet more than a sheet of plywood.
Forrest’s router table doubles as his workbench. Though it isn’t the sturdiest of benches, when it’s pressed up against the vanity counter it stays in place surprisingly well.
Watch the Door
One of the biggest space hogs is the bathroom door, shown in the lower, right of this photo. An outswing door is great to have if you’re planning on spending some shop time in your bathroom.
Quieter, multifunctional and smaller, hand tools solve a lot of problems when it comes to working in a condo.
Work With What You Have
Everything has a use. A towel rack makes a great temporary clamp storage area. With a little ingenuity, lots of often-used shop items could be stored within arm’s reach, so while you’re working in a small space you wouldn’t have to take more than a step or two to reach anything.
On the Move
Keeping your tools portable is important, as they will travel between the bathroom shop and the closet a lot. Dedicated storage, like Festool Systainers, will keep the process much simpler.
A Little Extra Space
When a project is too large to be assembled inside his bathroom shop, Forrest brings the parts into the main area of his condo for a quick assembly. Blankets, sheet goods and plastic to protect the floor will go a long way in keeping the peace within the household.
Keep your projects small
You’re probably wondering how it’s possible to get any work done in such a small space. I certainly won’t be making any bed frames or large bookcases, but it’s still possible to turn out some finished projects in the space. A box? A birdhouse? A cutting board? A small planter? No problem. I even managed to make a 6’ tall, 2’ wide shelving unit, although I did have to do the final assembly in the loft.
A few challenges
What are the challenges in woodworking in an apartment bathroom? Besides space, there are the obvious dust and noise concerns for sure. Hand-planing with a lightweight workbench is not ideal, but because of the small space I can push it up against the vanity to counter the forces and keep the bench in place. One drawback I didn’t think of was heat. Running a shop vacuum in a small space for extended periods when sanding puts out a lot of heat. If I have some extended sanding to do I’ll put the vacuum outside the door to keep the heat out.
The biggest drawback I didn’t think of is the inward opening door. This limits the space for tools and materials to keep the door swing area clear. Maybe one day I’ll convert it to an outward-opening door.
Keep the noise down
I’m a bit lucky in the fact that being at the top corner of the building this room shares no walls, floor, or ceiling with our neighbors, so noise is not an issue. If you’re considering opening up shop in your condo bathroom, and you want to keep your neighbours happy, I would suggest a common sense approach. First, don’t make lots of noise at night. That one is simple. Secondly, make friends with your neighbours and don’t be afraid to give them a gift once in a while or help them with a small project. Neighbours have a hard time getting mad at you when you’re working on projects for them.
Control the dust
As for the dust that every woodworker faces, I manage it a few different ways. The most obvious one is hand tools. Planes, chisels, spokeshaves and handsaws are all used in my shop. Festool tools have great dust collection, especially their dust producing sanders. Besides, with big expensive stationary tools not being an option, it’s easier to justify spending more on the tools that I can use. The exhaust fan helps with dust too. It creates a small pressure difference to keep the dust from spreading to the rest of the apartment. When finishing a project it can exhaust the fumes while the finish dries in a nice warm space too. My other dust management trick is the space, or lack thereof. I can vacuum every square inch of floor, walls and ceiling in five minutes. Sometimes a small shop is an advantage.
Since this is a bathroom first and a workshop second, there needed to be an efficient way to convert between the two. My workbench has heavy-duty locking casters so it can easily be moved from the bathroom to the closet where it’s stored. Most tools are stored in this closet as well, while the less frequently used tools live in our storage locker. Stacks of Systainers fit on top of and below the workbench maximizing the available storage space. Setup is usually only 5–10 minutes, while takedown and cleanup is 15–20 minutes. It will never be an efficient production shop, but the setup/takedown time is not a significant issue. If I’m feeling a bit lazy, or waiting for a glue-up to set, I can just wheel the bench out into the loft area with whatever is on top of it for an overnight work break. Once set up, everything is within reach. I don’t have to run all over a large shop to get things done. Switching out tools is just a step out the door.
Tool selection is crucial
My two most used tools for prepping boards are my jigsaw and Veritas shooting plane. Originally I thought the shooting plane was a bit of a luxury as my jack plane got the job done, but a dedicated shooting plane is an absolute pleasure to use. Generally I cut close to the line with the jigsaw, then perfect it with the plane. Joinery depends on the project, but the space doesn’t limit my options much. Hand-cut dovetails? Festool Domino? A utilitarian project with glued and pinned butt joints (yes, I even have a compressor—in a Systainer of course)? No problem in the bathroom workshop. My workbench was built to accept a router plate so I have router table capabilities, and I have a smaller handheld router as well. Routers are notorious dust producers (even Festool hasn’t solved this issue completely), but then again there’s only so far the dust can go.
Overall I’m happy with my decision to start woodworking in an unconventional space. Sure, I won’t be turning out large furniture projects, but there are lots of projects that are totally feasible. If I had more space I would love to have the ability to re-saw and plane boards with power tools. Sometimes hand-planing a board to the desired thickness by hand gets a bit old. In the end, though, I still get the same satisfaction in turning a pile of boards into a finished project as someone with a large dedicated workshop.